Narconon, Critics Spar as Hearing Nears

By Michael McNutt, Enid Bureau

Daily Oklahoman,
April 9, 1992

With a crucial court date coming up next month, representatives of Narconon Chilocco New Life Center are trying to silence their most vocal critics. Narconon's targets, a local state representative and a Newkirk newspaper publisher, say they will remain vigilant of the facility that has operated two years without state approval at the old Chilocco Indian school about six miles north of Newkirk.

Despite Narconon Chilocco's actions against them, they say the center continues a program the Oklahoma Board of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has found medically unsafe and experimental.

"They're trying to shift the emphasis primarily off of them and onto somebody or anybody else," said Robert Lobsinger, publisher of the weekly Newkirk Herald-Journal. "They have a tradition of trying to assassinate the reputation of their critics."

"Their program is still unsafe and ineffective and they haven't done a thing to improve it. All they've done is attempt to ruin everybody else." Narconon Chilocco president Gary Smith says he is trying to get a fair hearing by exposing what he says resembles a conspiracy to prevent the center's operation.

"There's a lot of different players in this but they're all kind of hooked together," he said.

Since the mental health board denied certification in December, the center's lawyers have gone to court several times to try to keep its doors open.

Narconon Chilocco now is challenging the state's authority because the center is on Indian land and has treated only American Indians since February.

While a Kay County district judge considers a state request to close it, the center's lawyers are gearing up for a May 15 appeal in Oklahoma County District Court of the board's ruling.

In the past several weeks, Narconon Chilocco has tried to discredit Rep. Jim Reese, R-Deer Creek, and Lobsinger.

Narconon lawyers sought telephone records and Lobsinger's files on the center because Lobsinger sent state officials articles about Narconon International, the center's parent organization, and the Church of Scientology, which has ties with Narconon.

Lobsinger eventually complied with a court order last month to answer questions about his correspondence with state officials, but he was not required to turn over his records.

However, he may be charged court costs, which could reach about $3,000 with attorney fees.

"Certainly they can break me but that doesn't make their program work any better," Lobsinger said.

The center has issued a news release quoting Oklahoma County District Judge Leamon Freeman describing Lobsinger as "an obnoxious smart alec so and so." Freeman, who excused himself from the case after receiving mail from Lobsinger said he refused to answer him because "I wouldn't put myself in the gutter with him."

In refusing to release his records, Lobsinger sought protection under state shield laws that protect news reporters.

Oklahoma County District Judge Daniel Owens ordered Lobsinger to answer their questions.

"I'm adamantly opposed to newspaper people using their newspaper as a club and a shield and basically saying they can do anything they want because they are affiliated with the newspaper, and this is what is happening in this case," Owens said.

"This was not a newsman working on a story, but a newsman on a personal crusade."

Lobsinger said he did not object to answering questions but "what I didn't want to do was give them free access to all of my records."

The center also issued a news release saying Smith filed a complaint against Reese with the Kay County Republican Party and claimed he was using a public office to advance a personal campaign.

Reese has opposed the center since learning it is connected to the Church of Scientology.

In August 1989 Reese said he would do "everything I know how to stop this development" after he received material calling Scientology "the most dangerous religious cult in America."

Smith said Reese is using his office, time and stationery paid by state taxpayers "to spread lies and rumors about the religious beliefs of some Narconon staff."

"If he had his way," Smith said, "Representative Reese would wipe out a successful drug rehab facility just because he disagrees with the religion of some of its staff."

In a complaint to Deanna Hunter of Ponca City, Smith asked for action against Reese to curtail his "offensive and possibly illegal behavior." Smith said Reese is showing bias by sponsoring legislation to change procedures to certify alcohol and drug abuse facilities.

Hunter answered Smith in a letter calling Reese "one of our outstanding Republican legislators."

"Jim is in good standing with the Kay County Republican Party and he has our full support," Hunter wrote.

Legislation Reese sponsored two years ago eliminated the Oklahoma health Planning Commission, which initially approved Narconon Chilocco, and placed its duties in the state health department.

This session, he is sponsoring a bill to allow the mental health board to use evidence besides information given at public meetings and for the public record.

The evidence could consist of letters, telephone calls or observations by mental health staffers.

"Anything that they (state inspectors) find out there on a site visit should be able to be used," Reese said.

Smith says the center opposes the bill because false information could be submitted against an applicant.

He claims a reason Narconon was denied certification was "communications coming to the board from all over the place, and they were taking it, outside of the realm of what their responsibilities were as an investigative body."

Reese said he does not intend to bow to Narconon pressure.

"They're grasping at straws trying to attack people who have opposed them," he said.

Lobsinger says he is not surprised Narconon is lashing out. "It's predictable," he said.

Lobsinger exposed the center's Scientology ties in early 1989, shortly after it won a certificate of need from the state and announced plans for its 75-bed treatment center.

Since then, Lobsinger has written editorials urging the state to close the center.